Westboro Announcement of Jobs Funeral Picket Made Via iPhone
The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church says its congregation plans to picket the funeral of Apple former CEO Steve Jobs, the man behind now-standard communications technologies such as the personal computer and the iPad. The announcement was made using one of Jobs’ own innovations, reported ABC News Radio on Oct. 6: An iPhone.
The group specializes in picketing funerals, plays, and other events, especially when they are of a high profile nature; in the case of Jobs, the publicity draw may be equaled by the fact that Jobs’ company is known to be gay-friendly.
Apple earned a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign on its "Equality Index," a ratings system applied to companies that evaluates how equitable the work environment is for gay employees, among other criteria.
Jobs suffered from pancreatic cancer. He stepped down as CEO of Apple a few weeks before his death on Oct. 5.
Westboro is headed by the Rev. Fred Phelps, who has made it his crusade and that of his church’s congregation to mount public displays condemning gays and the support that gays find in American society. Fred Phelps has faded from public view in recent years, with his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, taking on the role of the congregation’s de facto leader.
Not all of Fred Phelps’ offspring are members of the church. His son, Nathan Phelps, has been estranged from the family for a number of years, and told the media earlier this year that Fred Phelps carried out acts of domestic violence against his wife and children.
Though the congregation never admits openly that gays should be subjected to physical abuse, their rhetoric points to that conclusion, and the implicit violence in the root of their message is hard to miss. The Bible prescribes the killing of homosexuals, with scriptural passages saying that men who have sex with other men are "abominations" in the sight of an angry God.
The Bible says similar things about a range of other behaviors, from the wearing of blended fabrics to the eating of shellfish to keeping close-cropped hair and shaving. The Bible also calls for execution for an array of offenses, ranging from "witchcraft" (which can be construed under strict religious interpretation as everything from astrology to alternative medicine) to teenage rebelliousness. However, anti-gay pastors tend to ignore those inconvenient passages and focus on scripture’s anti-gay content.
But from what Nathan Phelps had to say, the Bible’s tradition of violence as a means of keeping order was handily observed in the Phelps household, a March 17 CNN.com story reported.
The CNN article reported that, as Nathan Phelps told it, his father "hit his wife and beat his children with a mattock handle until they bled." A mattock is an implement similar to a pick.
"He used that in such a way that it split the skin on the back of the kid’s legs so they bled," Nathan Phelps said, adding, "If they want to call that discipline, that’s fine. But I call it abuse."
Faith-based hate speech directed at gays is nothing new, and the Bible has been cited as justification for anti-gay laws and ballot initiatives that go so far as to deprive same-sex families of the legal right to civil marriage. But Nathan Phelps suggested that his father’s anti-gay activities have gone beyond even those measures, telling CNN that the outrages perpetrated by Westboro constitute "one of the best reasons that America has been forced to get off the fence and address" the question of legal and social equality for GLBT citizens.
The congregation, which is made up primarily of Fred Phelps’ extended family, "travels nationally to picket the funerals of gay victims of murder, gay-bashing or people who have died from complications relating to AIDS," notes a Wikipedia article, adding that the group also protests at "other events related or peripherally related to gay people; Kansas City Chiefs football games; and live pop concerts."
Another of Phelps’ daughters, Margie Phelps, sent out a message on the evening of Oct. 5, shortly after news broke of Jobs having died, that Westboro intended to picket his funeral.
The group has been embroiled in legal disputes because of its practice of picketing the funerals of fallen American servicemembers killed in action overseas. The congregation claims that deaths resulting from military actions and natural disasters are God’s punishment for the United States not persecuting gays sufficiently.
The picketing of military funerals led to a lawsuit in which the church was ordered to pay a total of nearly $11 million in damages. However, a federal appeals court reversed that verdict, and the United States Supreme Court eventually ruled that Westboro had the right, under the First Amendment, to express its anti-gay religious views even though many find the messages and the manner of that expression to be highly offensive.
Even so, a number of states have passed laws restricting protests at funerals. A federal law, the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, also places prohibitions on protests at funerals.
"He had a huge platform; gave God no glory and taught sin," Margie Phelps tweeted via an iPhone, ABC News reported. "No peace for man who served self, not God," Margie Phelps added. "Westboro must picket."
When critics took note that Ms. Phelps had used one of Jobs’ own creations to announce plans to protest at his funeral service, she made use of a time-honored rhetorical device and claimed that the iPhone was part of God’s plan, even though the group’s philosophy suggest that the gay employees that Jobs’ company treated as equals were not.
"Rebels mad cuz I used iPhone to tell you Steve Jobs is in hell," Ms. Phelps sent out. "God created iPhone for that purpose! :)"
No funeral arrangements for Jobs have been announced as yet.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.